A Brief History of Kang, Part 29: Watchin' and Whisperin'
By Robert Clough and John Simons
After the muddled events in West Coast Avengers, we take a surprising detour into the worlds of What If? One might ask what this has to do with "our" reality, but as it turns out, quite a bit. Roy Thomas took a crack at making the whole saga even more confusing.
What If? Vol. 2, #35-38 (the story collectively known as "Timequake"):
The Watcher is doing his usual thing when he notices that the mysterious trio known as the Time Keepers have started to muck with alternate realities. The Time Keepers were the folks that Immortus was working for, and they were out to erase our reality's nexus-being, the Scarlet Witch. Immortus was supposed to focus the energies of all other nexus beings into Wanda; doing so would somehow protect the Time Keepers from being wiped out of existence. Thanks to the West Coast Avengers, this didn't happen, and Immortus had the nexus energy transferred to him, and he was now stuck in Limbo.
This was all known info. What was new information was that Immortus had missed four other nexus beings in other realities. The TK's knew they had to get rid of them, but were forbidden from acting directly due to the "laws of time". In the first reality, their target was the unborn Franklin Richards, of the earth where the Fantastic Five (with Spidey) were active. (The story shtick was that they would be revisiting realities seen in older issues of What If?) The FF (minus Sue) went to the Negative Zone in order to gain the Cosmic Control Rod, the one thing that could help Sue live through her pregnancy. The Time Keepers were hoping that Annihilus would wipe out the FF, so that Sue, and hence Franklin would die. He fails, as the FF gets the CCR. Then they tried Doc Doom, giving him subliminal knowledge of the rod's existence and the means to get to the Zone. He gets the rod away from the FF and is fighting Annihilus when he suddenly has a change of heart and tosses the rod back to Reed. The Time Keepers are mystified as to what happened, but Uatu saw something that they didn't.
A being known as the Whisperer mentally contacts Doom and shows him what would happen to the Earth if Franklin and Sue don't survive: in a very vaguely described way, it will lead to nuclear war. Doom ultimately believes Whisperer, and is whisked away right before his seeming destruction. When the Time Keepers told the Watcher their story, he knew something was wrong, because Doom was not actually killed in that reality. But the TK's hadn't noticed this, and Uatu wasn't about to spill the beans.
Apparently, the Time Keepers only had one shot at each reality to change things, because they were now moving on to the second reality. Apparently, if they could get rid of just a couple of the nexi, they would live. Since they knew the Watcher couldn't interfere, they showed him their next target: The Vision who had taken over the world through the earth's computers, and turned the earth into a utopia (of sorts). His main operatives were the Cosmic Avengers: Jhen the Gammazon, Irondroid, Tachyon Torch and Commander America. The Time Keepers choose as their champion Korvac, the half-man/half-machine villain who was one of the Guardians of the Galaxy's main villains. Korvac went back in time and mentally enslaved the Guardians and used them to fight the Avengers. Eventually, Korvac managed to kill the Vision, but not before he himself was defeated. The TK's had a victory. However, unbeknownst to them, the Whisperer struck again, this time taking Irondroid.
Their next target was Jean "Marvel Girl" Grey, in the reality where the X-Men were turned into vampires by Dracula and then proceeded to take over Manhattan. This one was a mess: Inferno was happening, so Mr. Sinister, Nastirh, the Goblin Queen, etc were fighting the X-Vampires, and losing. Dormammu popped in and started wiping everybody out. Sinister struck a bargain with Wolverine: I'll get you into the Dark Dimension to fight Dormammu if you and your mutants leave earth forever. The deal was made, and Jean Grey became Phoenix and wiped out Dormammu. The TK's lost this round, and as a result, one of them disappeared. The battle turned when the Whisperer popped up and told Jean Grey that the only way her side could win is if she became Phoenix again. Then, the Whisperer snatched Wolverine away when the battle ended. As this issue ended, the Time Variance Authority (TVA) noted a timequake of 12.8 on the "simonwalt" scale (cute, Roy).
As their next target (the Odin in the reality where he was being crushed to death by Seth) came into view, another Time Keeper disappeared. Odin was not actually dead, but he was utterly defeated and Seth was draining the Odinpower out of him. Thor had been beaten and thrown in a dungeon. Suddenly, the guys that the Whisperer had snatched from the other timelines (Wolvie, Doom and Irondroid) show up and rescue Thor. The Whisperer arrives and tells them that he assembled them to save the Asgard of that reality. But by showing up, he makes his existence known to the remaining Time Keeper, who is starting to feel the pressure to intervene. He's particularly annoyed that he can't figure out just who the Whisperer is.
The heroes win, Odin lives, and the last Time Keeper drops out of existence. The Whisperer finally shows his true face: he's Immortus! He explains that even though he was trapped in Limbo, he was able to use the nexus power he had been given to send an astral projection to gather up pawns. Now that his jailers were gone, he zoomed off saying that he could now be "the one true master of time." Several TVA flunkies start to panic because of Immortus' actions, the disappearance of the Time Keepers, and the fact that their Time Zone Manager was on vacation.
So the Watcher goes to the TVA offices after being summoned by a TVA deputy secretary (who of course is a dead ringer for Mark Gruenwald). Because of the emergency, he says, all cosmic oaths--including the Watcher's--had been suspended. In other words, if he had any useful suggestions, he should make them. As a result of Immortus being freed from Limbo, with his nexus-power intact, he now moved on to another plane of existence, shedding his human form to become a quantum wave, "infiltrating one alternative reality after another." He was on his way to reordering "the entire multiverse, to make himself master of all time!"
In a very important bit of continuity, the Deputy Secretary explains how the Time Keepers were formed. They were created by "He Who Remains", the last director of the TVA. He created the last living beings in the universe, right before the death of the universe. They came out wrong, however, and became known as the Time Twisters, going back in time and destroying everything they saw, trying to go back to the beginning of time. Thor and Zarrko the Tomorrow Man traveled to the future in order to convince him to unmake them, which he did. He then created the next batch: the Time Keepers.
The TVA thought that the best way to stop Immortus was to alter the conditions of his origin, such that he could no longer store nexus force. They used Irondroid, Dr Doom, Wolverine and Thor to attack Limbo, but Tempus, Rama-Tut's robots, Dire Wraiths and the Space Phantom's people were defending the realm. The heroes won, but a problem occurred: the Immortus Wave struck, resetting Limbo and foiling their plan.
Uatu then had a suggestion: don't strike at Immortus, Kang, Rama-Tut, etc. Instead, strike at the man he was before he became Rama-Tut: Nathaniel Richards, the descendant of Reed Richards' father. A deputy secretary suggests the use of the Saturnyne Symbiont, a substance that weakens one's resistance to time energy. This would make it impossible for Immortus to store nexus power, ending the threat. The Watcher suggests a particular team of the Fantastic Four to carry out this mission, but his original team was overruled by the Watcher's choice: the Fantastic Four where the foursome got different powers. Reed Richards was now a super-brain in Doc Doom's body, Johnny Storm was Mandroid, Ben Grimm was Dragonfly, and Sue Storm was Ultra-Woman. Reed tries to explain the whole thing to N. Richards, but he didn't believe it, thinking it a trick to take away the time machine that was his by right of ancestry. So he kills them with his technology, a task made easier by the relative inexperience of this FF. Uatu feels that there is only one FF team that can convince N. Richards that his future self will cause disaster.
That team is the non-powered group of adventurers: Richards' Rocket Group. Their explanation again did not fly, but they were prepared: Reed used an energy-dampening field to knock out N. Richards' machines. Reed tries to prove it by showing him a DNA testing device that will prove that they're related. Nathaniel takes a chance, trusts him, and is apparently satisfied with the results. Sue injects him with the symbiont, and their work is done. Reed notes that when he wakes up, he'll have forgotten the whole thing, and go on to become Kang. The multiverse is safe, and everyone is returned to their proper places before the whole ugly affair started.
This includes Immortus, who is in Limbo and is now unable to contain the nexus-power. So he explodes. The Time Keepers reappear, except they are revealed to actually be the Time Twisters, as the real Time Keepers reappear. They explain that two alternate realities exist, and they keep flipping back and forth. One is where the Time Twisters are in charge (and they're eee-vil, boys and girls), the other where the Time Keepers were created (and they're the white hats). The Twisters were the ones who tricked Immortus into the whole Scarlet Witch/Nexus thing, because they "planned to alter the timelines so that their reality was dominant, and ours would fade". But thanks to the Watcher, this didn't happen. The Twisters shriveled down to pod form, and were taken by the Keepers, who went back to watch over time.
This story made my head hurt. It brought Immortus back and then "killed" him again. This was his last appearance in "current" continuity until Avengers Forever #1, although the Immortus who was near death popped up in Terminatrix Objective. Establishing Kang as Nathaniel Richards was somewhat overturned in the Sanderson Kang autobio, where it became much more vague. The real trick was that Kang apparently knew this had happened, but must have only learned about it retrospectively, since he was supposed to have forgotten it had ever happened. The history notes that N. Richards knew who the Fantastic Four (and Reed Richards) were, but feigned ignorance here. I say that
a) He may have never made a connection between his ancestor, Nathaniel Richards, and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four
b) The Reed he was familiar with was the one who stretched, not the one who wore Doc Doom's armor or who didn't have any powers.
So a question to be answered in AF #1 is: are these Time Keepers or Time Twisters? Whose side are they on? Are they still commanding Immortus?
After this story comes a bit role in the Infinity War for our favorite Conqueror....
--Clough the Conqueror